February 22, 2018

The Empire Theatre - Salem, Massachusetts

Empire Theatre, Salem Massachusetts
The Empire Theatre, Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts

On August 29, 1907, theater giant Julius Cahn unveiled his nearly 1,500 seat theater at 285 Essex Street. The Empire Theatre was built on the previous site of Mechanic Hall, which had been lost to a fire only two years prior.
For the construction of Salem’s Empire Theatre, Cahn employed his usual team, which included architect, Charles E. Horn and contractor, E.C. Horn. By 1908, Julius Cahn had nearly 300 affiliated theaters spanning the Northeast to Ohio.
Empire Theatre, c. 1925
The Empire Theatre, c. 1925
The 1915-1916 season was chronicled by theater fan Charlotte M. Younge, who had moved to Salem with her father in 1914. Charlotte combined her memories, Salem Evening News interviews, and playbills to create a complete overview of the Empire’s performances for that year. Charlotte dedicated her manuscript to Carolyn Elbert, the Empire Theatre Company’s leading lady, writing: “It is my intention to review some of the plays presented at the Empire Theatre, Salem, Mass., during the engagement of the most loveable and popular leading lady Salem ever knew.”
Charlotte notes that the 1915-1916 season opened on September 6, 1915 with “Get-Right-Quick-Wallingford” the story of two swindlers masquerading as wealthy businessmen in Iowa. The play follows their troubled, though comedic, adventures. The season ended on January 31, 1916 with “At-Bay.” Charlotte writes that following the last performance of “At-Bay,” Carolyn Elbert announced she would be departing the Empire Theatre Company and Salem. Charlotte wrote, “I was speechless. The news spread like wildfire and letters flew into the manager’s office begging him not to send her away…Many people cancelled their subscription tickets…Salem was actually heart-broken until the news came of her marriage and then it rejoiced that she gained, rather than lost, by the manager’s mistake.”
The Empire Theatre building was removed in 1955 and the site is now a public parking lot, adjacent to Essex House, a condominium complex.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections. 

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